In the madhouse that is college football today – mega conferences, teams ripping up roots to follow the money to play games absurdly long distances from their campuses, the NIL and a dizzying array of transfers – there’s one possible factor that no one has yet to consider.
Perhaps, just perhaps, all this big-time money grab is not for every school. Maybe those programs are happy to stay where they are, far removed from the madness and pressure of highly-ranked recruiting classes and asking alumni to pony up ridiculous sums of NIL money just to compete for a Top 10 ranking.
It is possible that they like being on the side stage rather than vying to be the headliner. That they want to maintain their rivalries and play other schools within a reasonable geographical area. That the reward for a successful season is beating that rival and making it to a mid-tier bowl at a place their fans and alumni can enjoy.
This occurred to me when watching USC and UCLA cast aside 100 years of conference tradition (the Trojans joined the Pacific Coast Conference in 1922 and the Bruins in 1928) like a running back stiff arming a defender. Those teams traditionally play on the national stage, USC in football and UCLA in basketball.
But what about the other Pac-12 (or Pac-10 now, subject to change at any moment) teams? Sure, Oregon wants to be considered among the “big boys.” To a degree, so does Washington. But what price would each pay to get there, the Ducks no longer playing Oregon State in the Civil War and the Huskies ditching its rivalry with Washington State? I find it hard to believe that the U-Dubers would choose playing Purdue or some other team they have no prior association instead of the Apple Cup.
Most teams don’t win National Championships. Only a few even compete for one. And the contenders are only going to get more elite with the NIL and so many quality teams in only two super conferences. Oregon State isn’t one of them, and neither is Washington State. Or Arizona and Arizona State. My guess is teams like this would prefer to stay put, play each other and be thrilled to actually have a chance to play in the Rose Bowl. Where they could get thumped by USC.
The same goes for schools in every corner of the country. For every Michigan and Georgia there’s 20 Cals, Virginia Techs and Iowa States. Yet the media is quick to shove every school into a big, bigger and obese conference without ever considering what that school wants and what is really best for the players, administration, fans and alumni of those programs.
You know what the Pac-12 should do now? Keep the teams it has and add San Diego State, San Jose State (hey, another team in the Bay Area media market!) and Fresno State and have a nice little conference made up of schools within its geographical region.
While the money and exposure makes sense for USC and UCLA to be in a Midwest conference, the cultural differences do not and that’s one of the problems with these ridiculous conference realignments. West Virginia in the Big 12? Rutgers and Maryland in the Big 10? Missouri in the SEC? Heck, two-thirds of the SEC fans forget that Mizzou is even in the conference until they look up and see their team is playing Tigers next week.
Also ignored in all this big-time money grab and conference expansion is what happens to Kent State? And UT-Chattanooga? Florida International and all the other small programs that fans don’t like to see on the big boys’ schedules but in which one game against Ohio State, Alabama or Florida gives them enough revenue to run their entire athletic departments for a year? With more conference teams to play – and some of them bad, let’s face it – then there may be no more room on the schedules for the small programs.
No, this conference realignment is not for every school. Not by a long shot.